If you can just avoid dying, you get rich. That sounds like a joke, but it’s actually a pretty good description of what happens in a typical startup. It certainly describes what happened in Viaweb. We avoided dying till we got rich.
That’s what I’m doing now in my writing career. Not dying.
When I first started self-publishing to Amazon, I felt a little late-to-the-party. Guys like Hugh Howey had hit it big already (though not as big as he’s gotten now), and little old me with my little old short stories… I felt like my dozen sales a month was failure.
What I didn’t realize at the time is that short stories with not-so-stellar covers selling at all was pretty good. I should have celebrated that.
Then I released the collection of many of those stories (and some new ones), Catholic Guilt and the Joy of Hating Men (free on Amazon and other places if you haven’t imbibed). And I didn’t expect a lot, since it was more a learning experience than a money-making venture, and with those few dozen sales I didn’t feel like I’d gotten a lot. But I should have been glad to sell any at all, and I now appreciate how many people liked it.
Then the first novel (After The Fires Went Out: Coyote) hit big, thousands of copies sold… and I thought “wow. I’ve made it.”
But I hadn’t.
Because that novel came out at just the right time, when there wasn’t much out in the Post-Apocalyptic subgenre. As it turns out, there were plenty of books being written for that subgenre… I just got mine out first. Now there is probably five times more competition in PA than there was a year ago on Amazon. And most of it seems closer to a “mainstream” PA than the survivalist / prepper PA that dominated before.
Now my books are practically invisible on Amazon. If you aren’t searching for me specifically, you probably won’t find them. And I’m not doing any marketing, since I’m too busy working on After The Fires Went Out: Veneration, getting it ready for publication in just over two weeks.
So my sales have been declining. This month is the first where I can honestly say that without something changing, like a reasonably successful new release, or some kind of promotional opportunity, my sales might actually disappear by summer. As in, no sales at all.
I used to get a handful of sales on my short stories. Now my After The Fires Went Out book series is floundering. The competition is tougher than ever, and it’ll be even tougher next month.
There will still be room for new authors to come in, with the right mix of genre, title, cover, and blurb to get that initial spark that gives them visibility… but the chance of getting that is shrinking, and the window is getting smaller. My latest release, Persephone: Goddess of the Not So Undead, has sold better than Catholic Guilt, but never got anywhere near the visibility on Amazon that I received for After The Fires Went Out: Coyote.
One of the biggest reasons for that, in my opinion, is that I didn’t do the work of getting early reviews.
There are probably two or three new books coming out every day in the PA subgenre, for example, and if one of those books gets five or ten reviews in the first couple of days, either from early readers or from friends and well wishers… what choice does the Amazon algorithm have? Obviously those books are going to be displayed more prominently than some book that had no reviews for its first 45 days.
With After The Fires Went Out: Coyote I had two early reviewers, both of whom had posted reviews in the first few days. Aside from the market getting tougher, that is the major difference between Coyote and my other releases. I’m starting to come around to the idea that if you cannot get five to ten reviews posted in the first 48 hours after release, you are losing the first and best opportunity to get your book noticed on Amazon.
Now, with book three in my series, After The Fires Went Out: Veneration, I don’t have enough time to get the book out to early reviewers… I’m hoping to get it out to a half dozen or so before release, but if I’d really wanted to succeed with visibility, I should have sent those books out thirty days in advance, at least, and then e-mailed the readers on release day with the link for posting reviews on Amazon. But I didn’t want to push Veneration back any longer, since it was originally meant to come out in November 2013. So it’s going out, alone, and if I’m lucky I might be able to get some reviews in the first week or so.
But I don’t want to make this same mistake again.
I’d always heard that the first week of a book’s life was the most important, that traditional publishers gauged the success from that first seven days of sales. Self-publishing changed that. A little.
People used to talk about a 90-day window at Amazon, that you got 90 days of new release exposure to help. Then people were talking about the 30-day window, or most specifically, the 30-day cliff where books would plummet into nothingness.
I think it’s back to the first seven days. Make it happen in those first seven days, or accept the obscurity and get to work on your next book. Maybe that next book will be the one where you’ll get those early reviews, that early exposure… maybe that will be the book that will boost sales of your entire library, and help you not die for a little while longer.
If that doesn’t work, there’s always permafree. I’ll be experimenting with that soon, too.